Drones to help police at G8 summit
Unmanned surveillance drones will assist an 8,000-strong police force in guarding key sites in Northern Ireland during this summer's G8 summit, commanders have said.
In addition to the 4,500 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers and 3,500 officers from other UK forces who will be providing security at the height of the event in mid-June, the Irish police will be deploying its own resources to secure relevant locations south of the border, such as hotels and protest venues, senior PSNI officers explained.
The PSNI's oversight body - the Northern Ireland Policing Board - gave approval for the purchase and use of three remote controlled aerial camera devices to help commanders overseeing a security operation that has been described as the biggest the region has ever witnessed.
The two-day meeting of the world's most powerful political leaders is being held in the lakeside Lough Erne Golf Resort in rural Co Fermanagh, but police believe many places across the UK and Ireland could be impacted by demonstrations.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay outlined details of the security planning at the Policing Board's monthly meeting in Belfast.
"Without doubt this is as big as we have ever done," he said of the operation. There are few events within the UK of this sort of size. The Olympics was a one-off for London - that was a huge event. This isn't the size of the Olympics but it's probably the next biggest type of event."
The potential challenges posed to the security of the G8 from radical groups will add to the on-going threat from violent dissident republicans in Northern Ireland intent on destabilising the region's peace process.
"I think you've always got to be prepared for any particular eventuality," said Mr Finlay. "But we're looking for us to have the right equipment, the right preparedness, the right number of people, so we can deal with whatever we are faced with in relation to the G8 summit."
As well as a ring of steel round the venue and deployment in the nearby town of Enniskillen, police resources in Northern Ireland will be used to guard Belfast International Airport - the main arrival point of most delegates; the road network from there to Co Fermanagh; and potential protest venues elsewhere in the region.
The devices will be retained by the PSNI for use in other operations when the G8 is over, such as missing person searches and public order incidents. Policing Board members have approved use of the drones for an initial one year period, at which point their effectiveness will be reviewed.